Another year, another season, another FIFA. Certain franchises have become the icon for their respective sports boasting high-end graphics all wrapped up in a neat package all prettied up with tasteful UI and all. Ever since the Frostbite engine became the base on which FIFA was built, it’s had its few issues here and there, especially with animations going all pear-shaped during celebrations and collisions. These issues are minimal to the extent that they now happen rarely, overshadowed by the attention to detail in the character models, the stadiums, and creating a larger than life atmosphere. Now with the Champions League finally coming to the world-renowned footy title, it has become quite a spectacle indeed.
The theatre of dreams
FIFA 19 now plays host to all major competitions known to football fanatics around the world and this title will remind you of it in almost every game mode. The ultimate European football club tournament has all the bells and whistles down to the commentary carried out by Derek Rae and Lee Dixon (albeit repetitive as usual), presentation and the inspiring Champions League theme song. I’m sure anyone who plays FIFA will hum to the tune of it when it comes up. But, the new additions don’t end there. The all-new House Rules adds a new dimension to the kick-off quick play arena of FIFA, whereas Survival you participate in matches in which the team that gets scored against loses a player. This makes for some interesting scenarios where one goal can alter your play from full-on attack to parking the bus in hopes that you can break away on the counter-attack and scratch one of the opponent’s players off the pitch. You also have to option of playing No Rules which features the complete opposite of what you’d expect in a normal football match. No offsides, no penalties, no fouls, nothing. Basically, anything that’s illegal in football goes here.
The new modes and the Champions League are just a few inclusions that have saved FIFA from becoming just a copy and paste from last year. There have been subtle tweaks to the gameplay to make it play a bit more realistic as opposed to the arcadey feel of its predecessors. One notable change is the pace of the game. This also makes the animations and ball movement appear more believable, but does not quite reach the pinnacles that it’s competition have reached over the last few editions. Passing still feels a tad sluggish as the characters on screen tend to react a second or so later from when you pressed the button, and the same goes for shooting. But what will probably bother most FIFA veterans is the new timed shot feature. Think of it as a button sequence mini-game within an already complex array of controls. You double tap the shoot button (B on Xbox One) that brings up a meter. When the two lines intersect at the central point, you press the shoot button again to get a perfectly placed shot. This may appeal to those that want to stake a claim as the most advanced FIFA players in the world, but to have all that attention taken away from the bigger picture can be both taxing and time consuming whereas you could have just stuck to a finesse shot.
There’s also a host of indicators, arrows and on-screen prompts added to the mix if you want to have the pitch covered in icons instead of players. It can become overwhelming in no time until switched off. The purpose of these on-screen indicators is to teach newcomers the controls, but with that much information on screen, you’d have a hard time getting used to it all. Luckily you can still play the Skill mini games and switch off the indicators as you wish to make life a bit easier. Free kicks still operate the same way as last year, but the situation for goalkeepers have changed with just an arrow (when on-screen indicators are turned on) pointing into the direction in which your goalie will punt the ball. Some tweaks were applied to penalties to make it more straightforward though, with an arrow showing direction and elevation, but no indication of the ball’s deviation based on the amount of power behind your shot.
And as for the shot stoppers, unfortunately, they still appear to have their pockets lined with concrete. There are instances where they pull off stuntman like performances throwing themselves through the air to parry a 25 yard belter. Other times they lift their legs from the floor and morph into what resembles a fetal position in mid-air with arms flailing. Defending is still something one needs to take time to master with well-timed button presses to lunge at a fairly loose ball or slide the ball from under an attacker’s feet. Holding the A button will still get your players closing in on the opponent, but there seems to be a bit too much distance once you’ve closed them down leaving much room for error. Standing tackles have become more effective as your characters will stick a foot in now and then so you’re not stuck trying to get those perfect button presses repeatedly. Skill moves remain unchanged with the highly effective right stick and alternate skill moves using a button press here and there. Through balls seem to have a narrow area of effect which requires well planned-passes instead of just spamming the Y button until you’re in the opponents six-yard box, a welcome change for many who look to play online against others.
Through balls seem to have a narrow area of effect which requires well planned-passes instead of just spamming the Y button until you’re in the opponents six-yard box, a welcome change for many who look to play online against others.
My team’s bigger than yours
Speaking of which, the FIFA Ultimate Team mode is still highly enjoyable and you can spend an eternity crafting your perfect squad sprinkled with the most talented football stars to date if you can unlock them of course. A few changes as to how you navigate and operate the transfer section have been implemented for ease of use. On top of that, there’s a new Division Rivals mode where you take your game online and play for rewards on a weekly basis. All skill levels are welcome to participate which takes the edge off of having to go up against the Ronaldos of the FIFA esport world. Simply put, you play in your division based on your skill level and climb the ranks to earn rewards.
The Career mode is unchanged following on what we got in FIFA 18, the transfer negotiations are still a mass of unnecessary back and forth with mostly outlandish outcomes when trying to secure a new signing when you play as a manager of a team, and the player career is still what it is. You can take control of an existing footballer or create your own from scratch. I like the idea of having a version of myself running around on a pitch pretending to be a pro footballer and I’m sure many would try and do the same. whether it will keep you invested in it though due to its slow start is another thing.
Pro Clubs require the same amount of dedication in order to increase your overall rating and capabilities, but here you can play online with friends against others in weekly seasons and cup matches. This is where you’d normally get thrashed by the online pros as they spend day in and day out upping their rank. Still fun creating a club with your mates and kicking some balls around online though.
You never walk alone
The FIFA franchise started the whole story mode within a sports game movement with The Journey, and it returns for an encore this year with The Journey: Champions. This time you play through the trials and tribulations of three characters, namely Danny Williams, Alex and Kim Hunter who we were introduced to in the previous year. You can switch between the three protagonists during your playthrough or simply stick to one at a time. Alex’s search for footballing greatness leads him to join his dream club in Real Madrid, a club built on the foundation of excellence and nothing less than that will cut it. During his occupation as the number one striker, he’s prompted to push himself beyond what he’s accustomed to and learns how to play as a team and not a single football maestro (kind of strange as they enjoyed a decade of building a team around a single player.) Alex has to deal with the stresses of being a superstar and building his own brand alongside being a professional footballer. On his path, he encounters a new obstacle in the form or Mentor challenges where you need to gain the respect and create a connection with various team members. Unlocking their challenges by playing to their strengths in matches gives you access to new skills. This differs from the skill tress offered to Kim and Danny.
Danny is plying his trade in the English Premier League where FIFA 18 left off, but this time there is more focus on moulding him into a specific player. He’s not the preferred player for his team and is required to work his way into the starting line up coupled with dealing with issues in his personal life and his fractured relationship with his brother, Terry Williams. Kim Hunter is a young rising star looking to break into the USA national women’s team and claim the right to be there as a valuable asset to the team. Her professional career takes a few knocks along the road due to events in her personal and academic life.
Between the three scenarios I felt more invested in Danny’s career over Alex and Kim’s rock star lifestyles where every day is a hustle.
Between the three scenarios I felt more invested in Danny’s career over Alex and Kim’s rock star lifestyles where every day is a hustle. Even though you’re presented with a few key decision making scenarios it doesn’t really impact the forced linear path unless you completely ruin a performance in a match which in turn changes the dialogue slightly. The script and acting is well done and plays out like an actual sports soapie. It’s not every day that you hear anyone saying that about a sports game. Like, ever. The only gripe I have is the training skill games that come up before every match you play. Sure, you can skip them, but then there’s the likelihood of getting an F rating for them which impacts your progress negatively.
FIFA 19 steps to the pitch with something new, something old, and something all FIFA fans have been yearning for since the Champions League license went exclusively to Konami. There are some improvements to gameplay making it feel a little less arcadey, but still easy to pick up and get into. Online play is smooth, but still hampered by long matchmaking times, but when you’re in, you’re in. The slightly slower pace of the game makes for a more fluid experience but is still plagued by a few frame drops here and there during intense moments. With all that said, the one thing the title exceeds at is its indulgent atmosphere and sleek user interface. Not all the characters in the game have the most up to date likeness of their real life counterparts, but you won’t be zoomed in on their faces when running in on goal for a one on one with the keeper. An enjoyable football experience with an entertaining story to boot.